Ripken claims center stage

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 11, 2001

The Associated Press

SEATTLE – Hey Cal! Care to reconsider? Cal Ripken, baseball’s reluctant hero, gave himself one last All-Star victory lap before retiring.

Wednesday, July 11, 2001

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SEATTLE – Hey Cal! Care to reconsider? Cal Ripken, baseball’s reluctant hero, gave himself one last All-Star victory lap before retiring. And he gave baseball one more reason to thank him.

Ripken homered and won the MVP award Tuesday night, highlighting the American League’s 4-1 victory over the Nationals, the AL’s fifth straight All-Star win.

”This one, I think I came in with my eyes open a little wider,” he said.

”When you know it’s your last one and you know that there will be no more, you tend to look around and take it in and appreciate it.”

What began as a trip down memory lane – Ripken started at shortstop, at Alex Rodriguez’s suggestion – wound up with him taking a glorious trip around the bases, cheered by Tony Gwynn and every other All-Star.

”He stepped up and did something magical the way he has done his whole career,” Arizona outfielder Luis Gonzalez said. ”He is an ambassador to the game of baseball and to the fans and to the players.”

And he can still play a little, too.

Less than a month after announcing he’d retire at the end of the season, Ripken became the first AL player to win a pair of All-Star MVP awards.

”It’s just been a great deal of fun my whole career. The All-Star games, I’ve been able to go to a whole lot of them, but this is by far the most special,” the Baltimore third baseman said.

His homer easily was the best moment in a game that saw Roger Clemens finally face Mike Piazza. There was no drama there, though someone was later hit by the shattered barrel of a bat – NL honorary manager Tommy Lasorda.

Derek Jeter and Magglio Ordonez connected for consecutive home runs for the AL.

Ichiro Suzuki, the most popular player in Seattle these days, singled and stole a base as the AL cut its deficit to 40-31-1. The Mariners got a record eight players into the game.

But it was Ripken’s night.

At 40, Ripken supplanted Stan Musial as the oldest player to homer in an All-Star game. Ripken’s other All-Star homer came in 1991, when he was MVP.

After stepping out to acknowledge a standing ovation, Ripken hit Chan Ho Park’s first pitch of the third inning over the left-field fence.

”I swung and made good contact and the ball went out of the ballpark and I felt like I was flying around the bases,” Ripken said.

Gwynn, who will retire with Ripken after this season, applauded from the opposing dugout. NL pitcher Curt Schilling caught the moment on his camcorder and NL third baseman Chipper Jones clapped into his glove as Ripken rounded the bag that had been stamped with his No. 8.

”It’s an amazing moment,” Park said. ”It was the first pitch ever in an All-Star game for me and probably the last home run for Mr. Ripken.”

Ever humble, Ripken had to be coaxed out of the dugout by the sellout crowd of 47,364 at Safeco Field for a curtain call.

”When he hit that ball, I said, ‘Oh, wow!”’ Gwynn said. ”There’s really only a couple of people in this game who could do that.

”It happened on his night.”

Later, the game was stopped as players joined commissioner Bud Selig in a six-minute ceremony before the sixth inning to say goodbye to Ripken and Gwynn. Video tributes were shown on scoreboard, which flashed, ”Thanks Cal and Tony.”

”It’s been a great run,” Ripken told the fans.

Two years ago, in baseball’s last All-Star lovefest, Ripken and Gwynn supported Ted Williams when he threw the first ball at Fenway Park.

A fitting farewell for Ripken. Many credit him for saving baseball after a strike wiped out the 1994 World Series, punctuated by him breaking Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games record the next season.

His brown hair now gray, Ripken played in his 18th All-Star game and finished up watching from the dugout with his 7-year-old son, Ryan.

Ripken’s first All-Star game came in 1983, when Johnny Bench and Carl Yastrzemski played for the last time.

Gwynn, added as an honorary member, did not get to hit. The eight-time NL batting champion from San Diego said he was more than content to follow the festivities from the dugout.

Seattle’s Freddy Garcia was the winning pitcher and teammate Kazuhiro Sasaki completed the three-hitter and got the save. Park took the loss.

Jeter, part of the new breed of shortstops who have carried on Ripken’s legacy, and Ordonez homered off Jon Lieber in the sixth.

Right before the first pitch, Rodriguez surprised Ripken by suggesting they switch positions for the first inning. Rodriguez had to playfully shove Ripken toward a spot he had not played since Sept. 1, 1997.

”That started with A-Rod,” AL manager Joe Torre said. ”He came up with this idea and said, ‘What do you think?’ And I said, ‘I think it’s dynamite.”’

Said Ripken: ”It was great seeing the game from shortstop again.”

In the second inning, Clemens and Piazza faced each other for the first time since last season’s confrontations. Piazza missed the All-Star game after being beaned by Clemens, then had the Rocket throw the jagged barrel of a broken bat in his direction in the Subway Series.

With Clemens keeping the ball away, Piazza flied out.

Then in the sixth, Vladimir Guerrero’s bat shattered and flew toward the third-base coaching box, where it hit Lasorda in the left hip. Lasorda tumbled over backward, but came up smiling. Bonds ran out and tried to put a chest protector on the former Los Angeles manager.

Notes: Randy Johnson started for the NL in place of Schilling, who pulled himself after pitching seven innings on Sunday. … Willie Mays, Gary Carter and Steve Garvey each won two All-Star MVP awards. … Torre of the Yankees is 4-0 as an All-Star manager. … Jeter, the MVP last July, was the first Yankees player to homer in an All-Star game since Yogi Berra in 1959.